Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature drops way below normal, causing the circulatory, respiratory, and nervous systems to slow down. Normal body temperature is around 98.6 °F; if your temperature drops to 95 °F or below, you are hypothermic. Hypothermia often happens gradually, but it can happen within minutes -- if, for example, someone falls through the ice into cold water. Then your body starts to lose heat faster than it can produce it. Severe hypothermia can cause an irregular heartbeat, which can lead to heart failure and death. More than 700 deaths occur annually from hypothermia in the United States.
Hypothermia can happen from accidental exposure to cold, to immersion in cold water, or to trauma from a serious accident. Wearing wet clothes can raise your risk of hypothermia. Elderly people are especially susceptible. Hypothermia may develop over hours or days if your body can' t regulate heat as it should, if you can' t sense how cold it is, or if you live in a cold environment in the winter. Diseases of the endocrine glands may also cause your body to have trouble producing heat.
Risk factors include:
Severe hypothermia is a life-threatening condition. If you or someone you care for has symptoms of hypothermia, give first aid to warm them up and call 911 immediately.
You can usually prevent hypothermia by dressing warmly, being careful to stay warm and dry, and recognizing the early symptoms. If you plan to be outdoors for long periods in cold weather, wear layers of insulated or moisture-wicking clothing, including a hat. Keep emergency supplies in your car when traveling. Avoid overexertion, eat enough food, drink enough fluids, and do not drink alcohol. Social service agencies can help people who are prone to hypothermia, such as the elderly or the homeless, find housing, heat, and clothing. If you have elderly family members or neighbors, check on them when it' s cold.
Mild hypothermia can be treated by warming the person. Get out of the cold and remove wet clothing and replace it with dry, warm clothing and blankets. Give the person something warm to drink, but do not give alcohol. Other techniques include using hot water bottles, warm baths, or heat packs placed under the arms and on the chest, neck, and groin. Do not warm the arms and legs directly; this can force cold blood back toward the heart. Do not apply heating pads or heating blankets, and don' t rub arms and legs.
Sharing body heat (lying with your skin touching the person' s skin) may help. The person can also get into the heat escape lessening position (HELP), sitting with knees bent upwards so they are against the chest. This helps keeps the body' s trunk warm.
Watch the person' s breathing. If they stop breathing and have no pulse, give CPR if you are trained to do so. Use caution, however, because a person with hypothermia may have a very slow heart rate. You may need to check for a pulse for as long as 45 seconds or a minute.
At the hospital, the medical team will use heated intravenous fluids. The person may be wrapped with blankets in a warm room or put into a large tub of warm water.
In severe or complicated cases of hypothermia, intravenous drug therapy may be used.
Some nutritional tips may lower your risk for hypothermia. Animal studies suggest that some herbs may affect body temperature and may help prevent hypothermia if used before, or just after, exposure to cold.
Always tell your health care provider about the herbs and supplements you are using.
These nutritional tips may help reduce symptoms of cold exposure:
Keeping your body healthy may help ward off hypothermia. The following supplements are for general health:
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs only under the supervision of a health care provider.
You may use herbs as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, you should make teas with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 - 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 - 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 - 4 cups per day. You may use tinctures alone or in combination as noted.
These herbs may help prevent hypothermia. Do not give herbs or supplements to anyone who is already suffering from hypothermia.
Few studies have examined the effectiveness of specific homeopathic remedies. A professional homeopath, however, may recommend one or more of the following treatments for hypothermia based on their knowledge and clinical experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person' s constitutional type -- your physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate remedy for a particular individual.
People with mild hypothermia usually recover with no lasting damage. However, people with moderate-to-severe hypothermia can face serious complications and even death. Children are more likely to recover from severe hypothermia than adults. The death rate for hypothermia in the elderly is about 50%. There are many possible complications from hypothermia, including hypoxia (lack of oxygen in the tissues), frostbite leading to gangrene in the hands and feet, inflammation of the pancreas, fluid in the lungs, pneumonia, kidney failure, and heart irregularities.
People with severe hypothermia should be hospitalized. They may need CPR. They should be transported very carefully and watched closely for an irregular heartbeat, which could be fatal. Normal body temperature in the elderly should be restored slowly, or permanent low blood pressure may result. All people with hypothermia must be watched closely until their body temperature returns to normal.
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